Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tapping into Emotion - by Stephanie Burkhart

Happy Holidays from the Burkharts

First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season! December has just flown by. I'm pooped. Thankfully, the only thing I have left to do now is bake cookies for Santa with my boys.

My boys are a hoot. Joe is 6, Andrew is 10, and they're my best resources when it comes to observing emotion, especially in kids. It's said that watching people is one of the best ways to understand human emotion. When writing for children, the best way to understand their emotions is to not only watch them, but interact with them.

Kids are so open and honest. I teach the 3's at my Sunday preschool and it's very rewarding. I've learned through my writing to keep the following in mind: physical signals, mental responses, and internal sensations.

Andrew is easy. When he's happy, he smiles like a Cheshire cat. When he's excited, he waves his hands. When he's disappointed or frustrated, he pouts and scowls. All these physical signals are what we writers can use to convey emotion and connect with readers.

Joe has sensory processing issues. When he's excited he talks a mile a minute and hand flaps. When he's frustrated, he wails and cries big and loud. All his physical signals are "amped up" compared to Andrew's.

It's easy to observe physical signals – a smile, a laugh, a tear, but as a writer, only you can add the depth required to a character to make them come alive.

Last week we had a Christmas party for the preschool children. Each got one cookie and a cup of milk. All the kids smiled. Who doesn't love a cookie? Cookies taste sweet and sweet makes children smile. (I suppose if it was salty we'd get a frown.)

See how internal sensation, mental responses and physical signals play into emotion? Put them all together and you'll round out your characterization.

Question: Do you "people" watch? Do you take notes? How has people watching helped you a writer?
Joe reading one of his favorite books, Spider in Our Mailbox 

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. She loves burning bayberry candles for Christmas. She puts a star on the tree and bakes cookies for Santa with her boys. Her 4RV books include: The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire.

Reference for this blog: The Emotion Thesaurus, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, ISBN: 978-147-5004953, 2012

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  1. Dear Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing your son with us. You are right. Using internal sensation, mental responses, and physical signals definitely play a significant role in showing emotion and traits of your characters.

    I hope you and your family enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Joan, thanks for stopping by. :)
    Thanks for the well wishes, I hope you also have a great Christmas & New Year.

  3. Great post. Your boys are great for visualizing emotions, mine were also. Since the kids are grown I people watch and write down different things they do. My daughter and I would go to the mall and make up stories to there animation. Its so much fun and a great writers tool.
    Thanks for sharing and have a very Merry Christmas.

  4. Stephanie, it is easier to write for children when you can observe them in action. I use my 4 and 6 year old grandsons. :)